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Breach of Primary Laws.


surrounding a body of the enemy; and of a man coming downstairs in the morning, thinking himself someone else. “One man is as good as another,” said Thackeray to the Irishman. “No, but much betther," was the sharp reply. A somewhat similar breach takes place when something is spoken of under a metaphor, and then expressions applicable to that thing are transferred to that to which it is compared. Passages in literature and oratory thus become unintentionally ludicrous. A dignitary, well known for his conversational and anecdotal powers, told me that he once heard a very flowery preacher exclaim, when alluding to the destruction of the Assyrian host. “Death, that mighty archer, mowed them all down with the besom of destruction.” Another clergyman, equally fond of metaphor, enforced the consideration of the shortness of life in the words, “ Remember, my brethren, we are fast sailing down the the stream of life, and shall speedily be landed in the ocean of eternity.”

Johnson says that wit is “a discordia concors, a combination of dissimilar images, or discovery of occult resemblances in things apparently unlike.” Many have considered that humour consists of contrast or comparison, and it is true that a large portion of it owes much to attributes of relation. This kind of humorous complication is generally under the form of saying that a thing is like something—from which it is essentially differentmerely because of the existence of some accidental similitude. There are many kinds and degrees of this, and some points of resemblance may be found in all things. We say “one man is like another," "a man may make himself like a brute,” &c. Similitudes in minute detail may be pointed out in things widely different; and from this range of significations the word like has been most prolific of humour. It properly means, a real and essential likeness, and to use it in any other sense, is to employ it falsely. But our amusement is greatly increased when associations are violated, and much amusement may by made by showing there is some considerable likeness between two objects we have been accustomed to regard as very far apart. The smaller the similarity pointed out the slighter is the chain which connects the distant objects, and the less we are inclined to laugh. But the more we draw the objects together, the greater is the complication and the humour. We are then inclined to associate the qualities of the one with the other, and a succession of grotesque images is suggested backwards and forwards, before the Intermixture of Associations.



amusement ceases. One principal reason why the mention of a drunken man, a tailor, ar a lover, inclines us to mirth, is that they are associated in our minds with absurd actions. Laughter is generally greatest when we are intimately acquainted with the person against whom it is directed. We have often noticed the absurd effect produced in literature when words are used which, although suitable to the subject literally, are remote from it in association. The extreme subtlety of these feelings render it impossible sometimes to give any explanation of the ideas upon which a humorous saying is founded, and may be noticed in many words, the bearings of which we can feel, but not specify. A vast number of thoughts and emotions are always passing through the mind, many of them being so fine that we cannot detect them. The results of some of them can be traced as we have before observed in the proficiency which is acquired by practice but can never be imparted by mere verbal instruction.

If things compared together are given too slight a connection, the associations will not be transferred from one to the other, and the wit fails, as in Cowley's extravagant fancy work on the basis of his mistress' eyes,


being like burning-glasses. The objects must also be fạr enough apart for contrast-the farther the better, provided the distance be not so great as to change humour into the ludicrous. Referring to the desirability of a good literal translation of Homer, Beattie makes the following amusing comparisons.

“ Something of this kind tbe world had reason to expect from Madame Dacier, but was disappointed. Homer, as dressed out by tbat lady, has more of the Frenchman in his appearance than of the old Grecian. His beard is close shaved, his hair powdered, and there is even a little rouge on his cheek. To speak more intelligibly, his simple and nervous diction is often wire-drawn into a flashy and feeble paraphrase, and his imagery as well as humour, sometimes annihilated by abbreviation. Nay, to make bim tbe more modish, the good lady is at pains to patch up his style with unnecessary phrases and Hourishes in the French taste, which have just such an effect in a translation of Homer, as a bag-wig, and snuff-box would have in a picture of Achilles.”

In parody a slight likeness in form and expression brings together ideas with very different associations. Several instances of this may be found in a preceding chapter. By increasing points of similarity between distant objects, poetry may be changed into humour. Addison remarks that “If a lover declare that his mistress' breast is as white as snow, he makes a commonplace observation, but when he adds with a sigh, that it is as cold too, he approaches to wit.” The former simile is only poetical, but the latter draws the comparison

Foundation Required.


too close, the complication becomes too strong, and we feel inclined to laugh. Addison merely notices the number of points of similitude, but the reason they produce or augment humour, is that they make the solution difficult.

When it is easy to limit and disentangle the likeness and unlikeness, the pleasantry is small, as where Butler says

“The sun had long since, in the lap
Of Thetis, taken out his nap,
And, like a lobster boiled, the moon

From black to red began to turn.” Here there is no element of truth—the things are too far apart. A humorous comparison should not be entirely fanciful, and without basis; otherwise we should have no complication.

Many humorous sayings, especially those found in comic papers, fail for want of foundation. That would-be wit which has no element of truth is always a failure, and may appear romantic, dull or ludicrous—or simply nonsensical. As in a novel, the more pure invention there is the duller we find it, so here the more like truth, the error appears the better. The finer the balance, the nearer doubt is approached, provided it be not reached, the more excellent and artistic the humour. Gross exaggeration is not humorous. There is too much of this extravagant and spurious

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